It was a welcome surprise when long time climbing and bush walking friend, Shaw Callen, messaged me in April to see if I was interested in tackling the upcoming Bendleby Ranges Rogaine. I had previously been there in 2008 with Steve Frigo coming a respectable 7th out of 28 teams.

I had rogained with Shaw in three 24-hour events previously with varied success. Our best result had been coming 6th out of 36 teams in 2009.

We had both enjoyed the thrill of winning a 24-hour event previously. Shaw had achieved this in 2013 winning the state champs with Paul Hoopmann.  Mine had been in 2005 with Paul Hoopmann and Timo Sild, a highly ranked world orienteer. I can still vividly remember the agony of sore feet walking on rocky ground getting to the last control on this event and crawling up a very steep hillside on all fours at 3:30am in the morning. Sally Caston was certainly right in her rogaine t-shirt design which went something like:  “You won’t remember the nights you had a good sleep, but you will remember those you rogained on.”

Over the past three months I had got myself into a steady regime prior to the event doing Park Runs plus walking up and down a modified, long, arduous route up and down Brown Hill from Carrick Hill Drive two to three times a week. The training proved invaluable on the rogaine especially with trying to keep up with Shaw, climbing up steep terrain and with warding off sore muscles.

Shaw and I had done extremely well in the first ten hours of our last 24-hour event together in 2015 but threw in the towel soon afterwards after getting frustrated with the map and ended up walking back to the Hash House without bothering to pick up further points along the way. The disappointment of this made us more determined to be much stronger with our mental attitude this time.  We were not going to do a repeat of 2015.

Now the Rogaine

We drove up Friday afternoon and after chatting around the campfire, I settled in for a good night’s sleep with the help of a comfortable mattress and temazepam. Shaw woke up with a bad headache and needed medication.

After a substantial breakfast we lined up early to get our maps and quickly came up with a similar plan. We initially thought it would be best to first tackle the steeper south east corner during the afternoon.

After some lengthy discussion, we changed our minds. We realised that even if we moved at a quick pace and found controls quickly, we could still find ourselves in steep country at night fall. Another consideration was the steepness of the contours down south which could exhaust us too early into the rogaine. Route finding also looked more difficult.

Our mutual decision to tackle the northern side of the map first, proved to be our most important decision. Our route choice was based mainly on maintaining high point score for distance travelled. We deliberately passed up the temptation to climb Marchant Hill for 100 points and saved almost two kilometres by not going to water stop 3.

Shaw and I started the rogaine at a brisk pace following the creek line then cutting across to control 73. There was a team already well in front of us. En route to Control 51 we were in the wrong gully but were kindly assisted by another team who said it was just over the hill. Getting to control 81 followed a long NE ridge then it was onto Control 20 where we had a quick stop.

The next three hours and 40 minutes were highly lucrative, where we captured ten controls for 600 points. We were well ahead of schedule despite having to stop on two occasions for me to deal with the onset of a blistered heel that was to plague me for the remainder of the rogaine.

After leaving control 82 we were greeted by a spectacular sunset framed by dark storm clouds.  We followed the south west track down and cut down a long flat north west ridge to control 61. I was getting back into the groove of using my old plate compass to take bearings after pocketing my thumb orienteering compass much earlier in the day. A wise move.

Shaw and I did a direct bearing from control 61 to 62 crashing through some thick vegetation and climbing over a low ridge. We emerged onto a prominent creek line but were unsure of which minor creek to climb up from this. We wasted some time here and made our way to the major track to get our bearings. In doing so we met up with another team which had taken the safer option of heading to the track first from 61. As a group we followed the second creek closest to the track then onto the saddle where we located this difficult control at last.

The next seven hours in the dark were smoothly done. Despite the onset of storm clouds there was enough clear sky to allow the very bright, full moon to illuminate the landscape. The night was unnaturally warm, and it was very windy. The next seven hours passed, amassing 770 points. Because we were moving so quickly, we decided to add in a couple of controls to delay our visit to the SE corner in the dark.

It was now 1:06 am. We had followed the track to control 101 looking for the bend before the track intersection. We are not sure what happened but in our tired state we walked past the track junction and started heading down the south east track and attempted to find the control off this. Finding this control should not have taken much more than an hour. Before this, we had negotiated much harder controls in the dark without mistake. We calculated that we had wasted almost 80 minutes. Realising our mistake, we headed back up the track and eventually found control 101 at 3:23 am.

Since we had wasted considerable time, we decided to change plans. We had previously planned to go to controls 47,54,55, 92 and 84 which meant going through some very challenging country down SE.  Perhaps it was a godsend we had made this mistake as I was faring poorly and, even with the assistance of the caffeine tablet NODOZE, I was basically falling asleep while walking. I am glad Shaw was able to keep his act together. Who knows what might have happened if we had followed our original route choice? Luckily my navigation picked up at sunrise as Shaw predicted it would.

I followed Shaw’s idea of playing it safe by walking a longer distance but having the advantage of keeping to tracks, less steep contours and easier route finding by heading up to controls 66, 76, 74 then off to the east to find 87 and 36. This was done successfully but I did struggle to keep up at times. We eventually veered off track down a very steep ridge slipping and sliding much of the way down to control 67. Despite fatigue we made it down to this control in a remarkably quick time. Heading off from this control I sustained a heavy fall to the ground with the small rocks like marbles underneath causing me to lose balance. With no broken bones but perhaps some colourful bruise marks to come out later we headed north east to catch the main track to control 68.

We headed up the creek line to this control. We abandoned the idea of going to 56 due to lack of time and headed up through some very steep country to 86. The climb up was long and exhausting with our aerobic capacity being tested severely. I was pleased to see Shaw, who is 16 years younger, also having to take some breaks on the way up. I followed Shaw’s lead to this control. We now followed the ridge down to 57 but did not find the right gully off this straight away. After heading north and traversing two more gullies we found it. With less than two and half hours to go we headed west with relatively easy navigation on bearings and going up creek systems to pick up our last six controls in 49, 78, 34, 37, 44, 23.  Shaw started running to control 23 and I followed suit. We partially ran and walked to the Hash House from here and came in with twenty-four minutes to spare. In our minds we did not want a team with the same score beating us by a few seconds. This of course never eventuated.

It was quite emotional finishing the rogaine. It had been a very challenging and exhausting experience. I had also sustained an extremely nasty heel blister which luckily had not slowed me down. Shaw’s Fenix watch recorded us as having travelled 104 kilometres. It certainly felt like it. When sharing this statistic with fellow rogainers it had them in awe. Sorry to disappoint, but it was actually closer to 80 kilometres.

We both enjoyed the challenge of participating in this 24-hour event. What stood out was Shaw’s route planning later in the event after control 101, our plan to go north at the start and our fortitude by having a strong mental attitude in lieu of what happened in 2015.  My goal at the start of the rogaine had always been to keep up with Shaw and assist him with navigation as best I could. Even better, I did something that I thought I could never achieve again and that is coming first in a 24-hour event. We were both pleased the trophy came back to South Australia. The New Zealanders were not far behind.

And guess what? Shaw and I both did it without Paul Hoopmann!

I would like to thank all the organisers and helpers for this event and to Shaw for being my partner. I encourage people who have only competed in shorter rogaine events to try a 24-hour event.

You can take it easy if you wish to!

Des Norman